Bible moralisée of Naples

Bible moralisée of Naples f. 47r (Ex. 2: 5-10)


f. 47r (Ex. 2: 5-10)

“Here Miriam weeps for Moses her brother whom she sees uncovered in the water. Here the child floats on the water and Pharaoh’s daughter looks and sees him and pities him greatly and orders him to be pulled out and her maidens do so. Here they bring him before her and uncover him [uncover reinstated thanks to the Rohan Hours which corrected this paraphrase] and show him all open and the maiden orders him to be kept well and fed and it was so, then she says child you will be mine.”

Moses’ sister Miriam, with unbraided hair, expresses her sorrow before her younger brother she found floating in his cradle. Pharaoh’s daughter sees the cradle adrift and orders one of her two servants to enter the water and pull the child out. The water is not very deep for the servant only has to hitch up her gown to reach the cradle. The child is then handed over to Pharaoh’s daughter who decides to take him in. The miniaturist in the Bible of Naples mistook the servant who hitched up her peach pink gown for Pharaoh’s daughter being handed the child by a servant garbed in lilac pink. Miriam seeing Moses being abandoned in his cradle signifies the Synagogue bathed in tears seeing the boy Jesus slipped like a bookmark between the pages of a thick book set before a sliver of the disc of the world. This book is the “Divinity”, in other words, the Gospels. The disc of the world, however, has been misunderstood and is depicted by two curved lines, one blue and one white. Pharaoh’s daughter discovering the child in his cradle and ordering him to be pulled out of the water, signifies the Church that sees Christ in this soiled world. The Church orders him to be taken from the “Divinity”, once again a large, open book. In this instance, the Church is preceded by Peter and Paul, with Peter himself grasping Christ’s wrist. Peter and Paul are not mentioned in the gloss and the world, i.e. the disc of the world, has disappeared. Pharaoh’s daughter adopting Moses signifies Ecclesia who receives Jesus Christ who has been released from this world and tells him that he is her husband and that her children adore him. At first only Christ’s head can be seen emerging from a closed book. Christ is then depicted as an adult emerging from a book which is still closed and finally moving away from the book now open but with no clasp. The explanation could hardly be more confusing: the marriage of Christ to the Church is conveyed by the gesture known as dextrarum iunctio, i.e. the joining of right hands. Finally, two small, naked children at the foot of Ecclesia lift their hands up to Christ.
The French Bible of Vienna, unlike the Bible of Naples, shows the newborn Christ laid immediately in his cradle by the “maiden Anastasia”, instead of the statue of the dead Christ being laid in his tomb by two bearded figures. This is followed by the Christ child placed between the pages of a book of the Gospels, as in the Bible of Naples, but this time in front of a large disc of the world in front of which stand two Jews who signify the thorns of this world, thorns portrayed literally, however, in the Bible of Naples. In Vienna, God the Father himself slides his son between the pages of this book.
The three-volume Bibles, in which Moses being discovered by Miriam signifies Christ carrying his cross in front of the weeping holy women, retain a very strange echo of the image of the Christ child inserted between the pages of the book of the Gospels. In the Bible of Saint Louis alone, the small open book being pored over by a monk shows, strangely enough, a small bust of Christ, an obvious recollection, albeit in miniature, of a motif often found in the Bible of Naples.

Yves Christe
University of Geneva
Marianne Besseyre
Illuminated Manuscripts Research Center, Bibliothèque nationale de France
Fragment of the Bible moralisée of Naples commentary volume

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